Bad biography

by Bob Spoo

The article is pretty terrible, and I agree that it's probably a pretext for pushing FINDING BIX as a holiday stocking-stuffer. But what really comes across is how badly, even goofily, biographers and would-be biographers have treated the alleged Ivens incident. I say "alleged" not because I don't sympathize with the little girl and her distraught father, but because the only thing we can honestly say is that we just don't know what really and fully happened, or what would have come about had the charge not been "no billed" by the local prosecutor (or perhaps by a grand jury--I'm still not sure even of that).

Look how dreadful the quoted remarks of purportedly informed scholars and Bixophiles are: Lion speculated to Wolfe that Bix was simply "hot" and drunk, writing the incident off as a silly adolescent escapade. Eekhof also filed it away in the "adolescence" bin. Black suggested that Bix probably did nothing wrong because he was a gentleman who was dating a pretty older girl at the time. Whatever Bix did or didn't do, these are not the sort of mature, thoughtful judgments that might be expected of serious biographical researchers. Bix was "a kind fellow and not a pervert," said Lion, offering a conclusory non-sequitur in place of real analysis.

Roba's innuendo-filled, evidence-light speculations about anti-German sentiment also do nothing for the cause of informed, balanced biography.

Then, along comes Brendan Wolfe with his play for voices. He rehashes what is known of the Ivens incident and adds no new value, really, except to suggest that a chivalrous conspiracy has long surrounded the purported facts. What he might have done was point out how seriously, even agonizingly, this incident has been discussed on this list ever since Albert reluctantly (and I think correctly) posted the actual documents in the case, perhaps fifteen years. Though we as discussants have often been carried away by speculation and emotion, there have been many serious discussions of the charge, the barebones evidence, the eyewitness identification, and the known facts about Sarah Ivens and her family. How can Wolfe even hold out the possibility of finding Bix--that is, Bix as he lives on in researchers and admirers--when his account is so incomplete on a question as sensitive as this?

I'm a lawyer, legal scholar, and literature scholar who has published a lot of historical and biographical research on non-Bix topics. I've often thought about trying to write up an objective, non-speculative analysis of what we know and don't know about the alleged Ivens incident. I discussed this with Albert at dinner in New York a year or more ago. I just don't know if we need such an account, or what good it would do. Maybe I'd like to get some personal closure by exhausting the topic, or myself.

Posted on Nov 19, 2017, 3:05 PM

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